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Boeke | Books > Boekartikels | Articles on books > English

Debutants 2009/10: “De-monsterising the human” – Rupert Smith on his debut, Mettle

Rupert Smith - 2010-12-08

Title: Mettle
Rupert Smith
Andersen Books
Date of publication:
Price: R165.00


Rupert, what inspired you to write this particular story?

I wrote the book because of my puzzlement and perplexity at what happened to Brett Kebble. I knew Brett very well, as I acted for JCI (the company of which he was the CEO) as a commercial attorney in several transactions. Brett seemed to have every conceivable talent, yet his life story is tragic. Now all one reads in the newspapers is what a terrible person he was; whereas that was not at all the case. The point of the novel is that behind every seemingly uncaring, fraudulent, dishonest man there is a real man with his own preferences and passions, loves and allegiances. Where the tabloids have de-humanised the monster, in my book I have tried to de-monsterise the human. The narrative is an expression of the rule that to understand is to forgive.

What was the most challenging part of writing Mettle?

Getting it to be short enough. I had originally written a much longer book, which relied much more heavily on the history (political and social) of the country from 1960 to 1994. But it was too long and the story got lost.

What lessons did you learn from writing it?

That it is very difficult to write a book and to keep it interesting. That which interests me and for which I have endless compulsion for finding out more detail, is not necessarily interesting to anyone else.

How do you feel about the second book?

It depends on how this one is received – I hadn’t properly realised the extent to which you stand vulnerable before the world when you offer up your few pages of scribbles for people to read and like or dislike. I may become a recluse if all the reviewers say that my book is complete drivel.

What is it about literature that rocks your world?

Literature allows you to disagree with the definitions of what is usually accepted and acceptable. For instance, it seems nowadays that to be generally accepted a man’s intrinsic worth is directly correlated to the amount of money he makes; whereas that is a hopeless test. I would much rather listen to the man who has quietly taught history for his whole life and earned a teacher’s salary, than to a successful derivatives trader who drives a fancy car and lives in Xanadu. Literature allows you to explore and criticise generally accepted notions through the medium of a fairly simple story.

If you had to be/meet a fictional character, who would it be – and why?

Stephen Maturin, the ship’s surgeon in the Patrick O’Brian novels. He is the reasonable and enlightened counterfoil to the unreasonableness and prejudice of the day. But he is also, in his own highly individual way, an explorer and a man of action.

Paper book or e-book, and why?

Paper book – because I suppose I am old-fashioned, and because I find them easier to read. I have read thousands of hours on a screen, and I still find paper easier.

Why do you write?

It is my hobby – it is like stamp-collecting, but less soul-destroying.

When, how and where do you write?

I write late at night on a laptop, with a voice recognition system (Dragonspeak) – I dictate into a microphone, and the words appear on the screen. Magic!

Do you write full time?

I do not – I am a commercial attorney during the day.

What other writer(s) do you secretly envy?

I envy more or less all other published writers – the ease of their expression, compared with my own clumsy efforts, is a constant reminder of what I don’t have.

What are your main influences – literary or otherwise?

Literature and music. I have read extensively for my entire life (I am now 53); and I have listened to a wide range of music, from abstract jazz, through heavy rock to the classics.

As a writer, how do you approach taboos?

I skirt around them. As for sex, I wrote one or two scenes, blushed at the thought that my children might read them, and then deleted them.